How Is Your Day Going?

Like everyone now, my days are overfull and too long. I got pneumonia in November, and with the holidays and lack of sunshine, regaining any sense of energy and purpose has been difficult. By the time I’m cooking dinner I am exhausted and — looking at a to do list that is definitely not doing to get to done – slightly demoralized.

Quite often at this time, my 15yo will check in with me.

“How is your day going, mom?” she asks. Her voice, when she talks to me, is high pitched and soft, the voice she might use with the dog, or a young cousin. She slides up close, and stops to wait for an answer. It’s a real question. It’s never “how are you,” it’s not “how was your day,” it’s “how are things right now?”

Anyone who’s parented a typical teen knows that it’s a joy just to see signs that your adolescent is going to make it through this somewhat narcissistic phase as an empathetic, thoughtful person after all.

Beyond that, however, I appreciate so much her careful turn of phrase.

How am I? Tired, discouraged, frustrated, irritable

How was my day? Disappointing, overwhelming

How is my day going? Well, right now, I’m just making dinner. I like making dinner. I like my kitchen, I like food. I like Brussels sprouts with chili paste or red rice congee, and I like anticipating my family happily digging in. So right now, my day is good.

Or maybe I’m working on a homeschool transcript for DDs arts high school application. So right now, I’m impressed with the both of us. I’m listening to music I like. I’m having some good memories about books we read, conversations we had, snuggled up on the sofa with a blanket and a puppy.

Some things never change

Some things never change

Right now, if I keep my focus tight, my day is good.

Many years ago I took a long course on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. We learned walking meditation, sitting meditation, full body check-ins, mindful eating, resilient ways of thinking. As you might expect from the book title, many of us were coping with long-term challenges: physical or mental illnesses, difficult relationships, or just lifelong habits that sucked the joy out of life. Each of us ended up in that class because we wanted very much to learn how to live contentedly in the “full catastrophe” of life.

It was so long ago I remember very few details of the book, but one of the participants summed up his takeaway from the class in a phrase I never forgot.

He said: “What’s so bad about breakfast?”

The point, you see, was that he found himself fretting or feeling down throughout the morning, so he tried repeatedly to bring himself back to whatever he was doing at the moment. “What’s so bad about taking a shower?” he would ask himself. “What’s so bad about getting dressed?” he might say later. And rushing through his oatmeal he might stop and say “What’s so bad about breakfast?”

You’re not going to find that one on any motivational posters or yoga tote bags.

But I understood it instantly and found myself saying it over and over. Where I could never proclaim affirmations with any sincerity, I could say wholeheartedly, “what’s so bad about breakfast?” or lunch or dinner or any other daily event and immediately recollect that in that moment I was OK.

“How is your day going?” takes me there too. Sometimes what’s happening in that moment is that I’m stuck on a problem or sad about a mistake. And that’s fine. But more often than not, because that’s how life is, my day is made up of things that range from neutral to not bad.

It’s true I can ask myself that question anytime, but it’s so sweet to hear it from someone else, someone who asks softly and stands still and looks in my face, waiting for me to form an answer. More often than not, that moment alone is enough for me to say, “right now, my day is good.”

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Happy Old Year

I know everyone is saying what a horrible year 2014 was, and we didn’t miss out on all that either. But my friend Heather posted a nice reflection on the past year and it gave me a good opportunity to remember just how many times I have felt ecstatically happy or just thoroughly content in the midst of it all.

I’m posting it here because a) I enjoyed doing it and though you might too, whoever you are, b) my response was way too long to post on my wall, and c) this way I can save it.

Here, give it a try tonight, or tomorrow, or this weekend — there’s no rush. It’s from a blog called Running Hutch, and this is her graphic, not mine.

Year-End-Reflection-by-Running-Hutch

Here’s what I came up with. If you feel like sharing, tell me in the comments, or on Facebook, or on the phone, or whatever.

10 Highlights
1. The whole Listen to Your Mother experience
2. Our Disney one-day marathon
3. Seeing friends in Reno
4. Spending time with extended family in Michigan
5. Seeing Elvis Costello and the visit with our friend Michael
6. An amazing colorful MN fall
7. Some very fun outings with local friends, camping, seeing shows, just chillin (and learning what an appropriate amount of alcohol is after 40)
8. Our SD trip, especially biking the Mickelson trail
9. Going to see the husband’s new band and enjoying having that as part of our lives again
10. Seeing my girls stretch out in a school setting

10 Disappointments
1. Auditioning for a local singing group and being told that I was amazing but not right for the group.
2. Spending a big part of the first few months with an injured finger
3. Getting the flu/pneumonia
4. Visits with my parents falling through due to illness or busyness
5. Not yet adapting to the new school schedule, so that I do more work during the day and have more time to relax with the family at night. (As opposed to being with the kids all day and working at night, as in the past.)
6. Not doing as much biking, camping, and swimming as I’d hoped this summer. Violet’s “summer school” issues and having 2 families with Victoria’s friends on the block move away really made this a bummer summer when we weren’t traveling or having friends.
7. Feeling unable and unsure how to help or make any positive impact on many difficult world events.
8. I didn’t do a lot of the writing that I planned to do.
9. My exercise schemes were constantly being derailed by injury and illness.
10. My time participating in our GT co-op and GT homeschooling group really petered out on a very negative note. This has been a hard one to get over.

3 Game Changers
1. Sending Victoria to school. Just talking about that seemed to open up more thoughts about how we all wanted to spend our days. Much like our first year or two of homeschooling led to lots of thinking about how we choose to spend our time.

2. Stepping down from my last leadership role. I have run something, usually lots of somethings, since stepping out of academia and into the world of motherhood, which is truly one volunteer role after another. This spring when I quit the board of our co-op, that was it – no leadership role in anything. This was terrifying, liberating, and sad for a variety of reasons. I love it and hate it.

3. Starting work with the first brand new client I’ve had in a while (worked with the same old for a long time). It’s a great opportunity to try new things, and also a goad to consider how I see my worklife in its middle third or second half. Funny how you can spend 20 years in a career and then feel like a novice again.

3 Foci
1. Work
2. Homeschooling
3. Procrastinating

3 Things I Forgot
The question is later rephrased as “What are the 3 main areas in your life that you neglected the most?” Based on my disappointments, I think the answers are obvious:

1. My well being
2. Being in charge of my work/writing life, instead of letting it happen to me
3. Saying no

How does this inform my plans for next year:

I am still in a transitional place, seeing about Violet going to school full time next year, thinking about what new kinds of writing work I want to pursue for pay, on the heels of my recent adventures. I also do miss running something. I’ve always liked the excitement of working with others to make interesting things happen, and it’s a good way for me to contribute to my various communities. But I don’t know that I’ve found the place where I want to do that yet. The kids’ schools are an obvious place and yet I feel like I’ve outgrown that kind of organizing.

I’d like to think the first half of 2015 will be about looking at those kinds of questions, while the second half will be about acting on what I’ve learned. It may turn out, however, that the first half of 2015 will be about getting through the end of homeschooling and the second half will be about a second act for me – which is OK.

Through it all, I know better now than I did a year ago that there is no such thing as “no time for exercise,” or for sleep, or for fun. I burned out big time right around my 40th birthday because I ignored these things for so long, and it’s been hard to climb out of the hole. It seems like, for me, right now, it’s never a mistake to prioritize these things over work, homeschool, or anything else.

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Homeschool Stereotypes, with extra cheese

We are well into a school year here, one child at a public charter, one doing a complicated dance familiar to those homeschooling high school: a class at community college, a class at a local high school, some “classes” with mom and dad, some tutors and clubs and activities, and some fevered creative activity all alone.

We’ve been required to interact with the General Public much more than normal. Wait, that’s not quite right. We’re always interacting with the General Public. What’s new is that as we’ve joined some different educational circles we’ve had to circle back to the “oh, you homeschool!” conversations that seemed to fade away after a few years.

Look at us being outside, like people!

Look at us being outside, like people!

It happened again during an awkward conversation with a parent at my older daughter’s confirmation class. It’s a very hippie, liberal church – not the one we normally attend—and the woman looked like one of several veteran lefty-granola homeschool moms I’ve met over the years. She was one of those talkative people who have a habit of finishing the sentences of reticent speakers like me, with the intention of being friendly and engaged.

Sentences like “As a homeschooler my daughter hasn’t really . . .”
“ . . . been around diverse groups.”

No, that’s not quite what I was going to say.

“We’ve been homeschooling so long that . . .”
“ . . . she’s not comfortable in a classroom.”

Well, for better or worse she’s been in classrooms throughout our homeschooling experience, so no. Not that.

It was all fine and certainly people are far too busy to know what homeschooling is like if they don’t have a reason to learn. But it was an amusing reminder, again, that many people who otherwise seem simpatico have very interesting, mostly misguided, ideas of what homeschooling is about.

I was pondering this while making dinner and listening to my younger daughter – the one in school – talk about an upcoming party we are hosting for her classmates. It’s a pretty funky charter school, but to Victoria it is as institutional as she has ever experienced. The kids are nice and smart, but they’ve had six years of a lifestyle totally alien to her.

Which brings us to the pizza order.

My youngest is a very social person. She wants to make friends, and she wants to make them happy. She worries about making a good impression. And so, she told me, we could not order our usual pizza. We order from a small local shop down the street, sometime a Greek-style vegetarian, sometimes sausage and onions, sometimes BBQ. It’s a cool place, with tattoo-themed branding, possibly because all of their employees seem to be covered in them. Nevertheless, it is a step or two up from typical pizza chains.

This kind of pizza, my daughter was thinking, would be too much for the quotidian tastes of her classmates. White-bread, middle-of-the-road plebes would probably prefer Dominoes, she reasoned.

I cannot stress enough that my youngest child is one of the sweetest people on earth. She is not snobbish in her behavior or speech, and she has been a champion of inclusiveness in her classrooms this fall.

Nevertheless she has reached eleven years of age with some interesting, misguided ideas about non-homeschoolers. I can’t take any credit for her sweetness, so I won’t take too much responsibility for her strange notions about philistinism and vulgar taste in pizza when it comes to public school children.

We negotiated to a different local pizza chain that apparently doesn’t signal as much “urban homeschool hipster” (note to self: child may have career as sociologist and/or advertiser). We spent a little time talking about being yourself and not making assumptions about others.

The rest I assume she will eventually figure out on her own, like she always has.

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Running Notes, pt. 1

To make good use of my time I’ve been running (jogging? straining my hip flexors?) in a park near the high school where my 15yo homeschooler takes a Chinese class. I was thinking about starting a running or fitness blog, the way it seems briefly logical to start a blog to accompany any new endeavor these days.

In the end, I decided not to because the potential for feeling self-conscious or embarrassed seemed too high. I thought photos would make me feel silly, and my slow times and sad intervals would make me look stupid. The first day I added some slow jogging intervals to my walks, I had to force myself to keep bouncing slightly at my snail’s pace every time another Athleta-clad cougar—the kind for whom the phrase “keeping it tight” is not used ironically–came around the corner.

Little did I suspect that humiliation would look more like scraped shins, muddy knees, and several frantic text messages to my husband and daughter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When telling a story, going from beginning to end is not always the clearest route. If this story were a film it would start with me standing outside the shower, finding one twig, then another, then a third, while shaking the ponytail out of my hair. It would show my naked feet, then calves, while I hosed off dirt – and please God not poison ivy – and discovered likely future bruises. The scene would end as I discovered new tender spots and red scratches on my forearms – “Ouch!”

Only then would the story cut back to me running through a wooded park with the dawning realization that the nearest bathroom might not be near enough. A shot of my eyes shifting back and forth, realizing that what had looked earlier like dense brush and thick stands of trees was in fact a sparse collection of reedy branches and fallen logs. A sigh of frustration mingled with the sound of the streams that run under the picturesque bridges of my beautiful walking path. A shortening stride, a determined grimace, and finally, a furtive exploratory dash into a bank of small trees.

But no. I couldn’t do it. Thirty minutes til I’d be at a bathroom, tops. No problem. I emerged from the trees just as an older lady walked past, and I wondered how I looked with my t-shirt full of holes and my ill-fitting fanny pack, clambering out of the woods like an escaped convict. I moved quickly to get ahead of her.

I had started back towards my car at this point, but there was still a ways to go, and moving quickly seemed less and less an option. Finally, I saw my salvation. No, not a bathroom. A turnstile entrance into the nature center part of the park, sure to be less traveled than my running path.

The trees were not much thicker there, but the odds of avoiding another person were in my favor. I crawled back through thick brush and found a clump of thin trunks that might provide some privacy. I tossed my fanny pack aside, took a deep breath and – no. No. I had gone at least 30 years without, well, going in the great outdoors, and I would not break that streak now.

I made my way back to the path, tripping over a fallen tree and pulling a dead branch pointy end first into my chest. Unfortunately, by the time I had run this obstacle course, it was clear I was going to be peeing in that park, on purpose or otherwise. Back into the brush I went, looking for the thickest tree trunk, glancing quickly at the ground cover and thinking “Leaves of three, let it be?” Once more I tossed aside the fanny pack and braced myself for the sense of burning shame that comes only from popping a squat in a park in the middle of one of the Twin Cities’ toniest suburbs.

Reader, I saw a man about a horse. I spent a penny. I came forth from the copse victorious, empowered.

As any writer knows, the walk/run back the car was filled with ruminations on just how this narrative would flow when I got home. It would be the story of a 40-ish woman who found freedom on the trail and said yes to taking her pants off outdoors. Until I got to my car and discovered that my keys had fallen out of the fanny pack.

I’ll spare you that part of the adventure, though it involved me looking once again for likely makeshift outhouses until I gave up and only discovered my keys on the way back. By then my story of whimsical liberation had become the tragically familiar tale of an almost 45-year-old woman for whom perimenopause meant both poorly timed urgency and misplaced keys.

Cut to sweaty pick-up of daughter, an hour late. A shot of an inappropriately amused husband shaking his head. “Did you tell your co-workers that your wife peed in the woods and lost her car keys?” A long, smirking pause. “I’m not going to tell you what I told my co-workers.”

Fade out on a 40-something woman running along a wooded path in bright blue shoes and new fanny pack with an excellent zipper.

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Sister, Sister

Change is coming in our house, but we’ve managed to blithely meander through most of the summer either too busy or too relaxed to think about it. But it crept in a little today.

This is one week when neither kid has a camp, a class, a veritable summer school self imposed by repeatedly ignoring spring deadlines (but I’m not bitter). We aren’t going anywhere, and no one is visiting. Just a week to chill together.

Chill. Like by eating lots of cold stuff packed with sugar.

Chill. Like by eating lots of cold stuff packed with sugar.

Excited by the prospect, 11yo Victoria tries to initiate activities with her older sister, but 15yo Violet wants to read, write music, text friends, and draw. Kinda solitary activities.

So Victoria finally says, tentatively, during lunch, “We could role play.”

And Violet says, calling out from her reading position on the couch, “Nah, I think I’m too old for that.”

Those of us still sitting at the table are silenced, and a gloom settles over the cold fried chicken.

We eat without speaking, deep in both nostalgia and clouded projections of the future. I don’t know what Victoria is thinking, but it feels like we’ve all taken a step that we can’t take back. “Role playing”—pretend games, living utterly in a fantasy world for days at a time, whatever you want to call it—was the basic stuff of my kids’ childhood, but especially Violet. There were times at the dinner table when she seemed literally unable to stop, to come back to Earth and be herself, whoever that was. I suspect that from ages 7 to 9 she spoke in a British accent more than half the time.

ABC -- Always Be in Character

ABC — Always Be in Character

If you Google around you’ll see that drama and pretend play are supposed to peak at about 5 years, but I’d say for Violet it was more like 12. I know what’s “normal” because her fantasy realms and invented characters and identities were so real to her I took to books and Dr. Internet to see if there was something wrong.

Though I also remembered that my little sister, possibly into the double digits, wanted to be a bunny when she grew up. Maybe it’s hereditary.

By age 14 it had cooled down, but it had definitely not gone away. Still, it’s a little harder to role play when your friends are 14. And now, it may be done. This seems normal and healthy to me—especially knowing it is all channeled into notebook upon notebook of character sketches and story ideas. And there’s always D & D. I can sigh and move on, but I notice Victoria across the table–nearly under the table–with a dark expression on her face.

We go outside to talk, and she starts to sob in her open, earnest way. Never one to hide her face or swallow tears, she lets her feelings gush forth like a fire hose. I brace for it, and she tells me that she knows that her older sister is only going to keep growing up and away. Three more years and she may be gone. She leans forward in the patio chair and tells me wide-eyed that she’s afraid she’s losing her sister.

One year ago: still not to old to go everywhere in partial costume

One year ago: still not too old to go everywhere in partial costume

I’m stuck. I can only tell her the truth. First, I didn’t grow up living with my siblings every day, so I can’t honestly say I know what she’s going through. But more than that, I can’t tell her she’s wrong. I tell her about adult friends of ours who remain very close to sisters and brothers, I tell her that siblings don’t have to see each other frequently or even talk frequently to stay one of the most important people in each other’s lives. I make the mistake of starting to say that I too feel sad when I think about my girls growing up, but this threatens to transform the mild weepiness I feel watching my girl cry into big, ugly, personal tears. I stop.

Thankfully, I don’t say what is on the tip of my tongue, which is, “You sure gotta lotta nerve, girl.” Victoria is the one leaving us first, after all, to go to school.

Girl with nerve -- Exhibit A

Girl with nerve — Exhibit A

We’ve been homeschooling for nine years. My first homeschooling blog, on homeschool blogger, is so old it’s disappeared. But my 11yo wants to try something new, admittedly in part because the 15yo is growing up and away. Homechool is less of a family venture than it used to be, and more of a solitary pursuit, and that’s a change that hasn’t been sitting well with my socially oriented girl.

We’re all mostly excited for her. To tell the truth, I’m mostly excited for me, too. Mostly, I am looking forward to giving a little TLC to my own work. Mostly, I’m happy to step back from the co-ops and playdates, despite the great people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. And mostly I am not letting myself think too hard about the rest of it: the guilt over not sticking with it (we could always come back!), the worry that middle school is the worst time to dive in to classroom-based education, the suspicion that were she given to a more extraverted family she’d be a natural-born unschooler, the certainty that no public school language arts program could ever satisfy me.

Victoria, on the other hand, is already thinking about planning a dance and having a party for all the new friends she’s going to make. Like I said, she’s sure gotta lotta nerve. Good for her.

Our conversation ends with Victoria taking a deep breath and saying to herself confidently, “I know we’ll always be friends,” before going inside to slice more watermelon. She sighs and moves on, and I try to clear the sadness now shading my face as I follow her, always just a little further behind.

Oops, no, sorry. Changed my mind. We'll always be together just like this.

Oops, no, sorry. Changed my mind. We’ll always be together just like this.

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The Sisterhood and My Traveling Pants; or, LTYM 2014

Many people have asked me about my experience reading for Listen To Your Mother – Twin Cities. This is my answer. It is not short.

Side note: I wrote most of it before hearing that Maya Angelou died today, but as the Internet filled with quotations I found this one especially apt: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

The Preparation

I did not practice my piece out loud alone, ever. In fact, even before my audition the only time I read it aloud was on a bench outside the audition venue, where it was about 35 degrees. Why I bother to wear makeup when any exposure to the elements turns me a blotchy pink remains a mystery.

I rehearsed only at rehearsals, briefly wishing I had honed my delivery better before choosing to pat myself on the back for not overthinking it.

I didn’t even obsess about my clothes. For a while I entertained the idea of buying something new, but fortunately I remembered that shopping for new clothes is at least as likely to be depressing as it is to be fun. Better to stick with the familiar: simple top, black pants. I had not seen the black pants in a few months, but no matter, they would materialize eventually. Wash enough clothes, and slowly they would rise to the top of laundry heap. Put it out of my mind.

Until the day before, when I still could not find my pants. Suddenly my pants and their absence were no longer a sign of my devil-may-care insouciance. My pants became the emblem of my unpreparedness for this event, if not for life in general. My inability to rein in or track down a single pair of black cotton-rayon blend pants was starting to represent the folly of the whole enterprise: exposing myself, quite possibly revealing that the emperor has no clothes.

After the drama these pants caused on my Facebook wall for days, I wish this story had a hilariously poignant ending. In truth I found the pants hanging on a hook in the kids’ bathroom, under a Hogwarts robe of the same black shade, the morning of the show, and that was that. Soul-searching time is over. Time to put on the big-girl black pants and read.

All dressed and ready to go

All dressed and ready to go

The night

I’ve auditioned for a couple of things lately, which has given me a chance to come face to face with what a chicken I’ve become. As a young woman auditioning for a cappella groups in college, I was self-confident to (past) the point of obnoxious. When a group groaned and told me they were tired of “Happy Birthday”–the song they told me to audition with–I said “Give me an A” and launched into a full recitative and aria from the Messiah, and then I turned them down when they called back. (Look, I’m just trying to be real here. I know it’s bad. Besides, I had a spot in the better group.)

So I’ve been surprised by the bundle of nerves that springs up when I poke my turtle head out into the world again. I’m presented with brand new, untried hurdles. Instead of “deep breath, best foot forward,” my self-talk sounds more like “she’s better than me, and oh no she’s better than me too, and what was I thinking” and so on.

I had been through this in the rehearsal process already, but the huge response the audience gave each reader made it all fresh and loud again. “My story isn’t that funny.” “My story isn’t that meaningful.” “My writing isn’t that poetic.” “My story isn’t that relatable.” And then, magically, my self-talk changed, and it said “Really, what are the odds that your story, your writing, your delivery are all the worst, that you’re the one who’s going to bomb when everyone else is doing so well?”

And they were doing so well. Every single woman stepped up and delivered the best reading of her piece yet. I was genuinely thrilled for each one, and it was truly like magic to watch each writer grow a little more expressive, a little more emboldened, sometimes a little more sassy. Every audience reaction, to the funny or the sad, provoked a fist-pumping “Yes!” in my heart. Throughout this process, without my realizing it, I had become a fellow bearer of these women’s stories. Their success was my joy, regardless of my individual performance.

I was second to last to read–the last before our co-producer Tracy brought it to a close. There are not a lot of words to say about it. I don’t know how personal or profound my story sounded to the audience. I laid out there, as best I could, a description of a major life transformation for which motherhood acted as the primary catalyst. (Video to come.) Though I think it was mostly funny, it touched lightly on some of the most vulnerable parts of me. And in response, people laughed, and said “ohhh” and “awwww,” and then, at the end, 500+ people clapped and yelled and cheered. I have gotten criticism and praise for my writing and ideas for 40 years, and I have sung other people’s songs for audiences large and small. But being seen and heard and embraced by a live audience, well that engenders feelings I could not have anticipated and can’t quite describe.

The takeaway

That feeling, it’s a big takeaway, but it’s something I can’t even begin to share or even use, because I don’t know how. So here’s something a little more practical and immediate.

As people began to ask me what my experience was like, I wanted to recommend it to them. I told writer friends in cities with an LTYM, “you should do this!” But it didn’t take long to recall that I have really awesome friends who have stories (everyone has stories), but who aren’t writers. Some, no matter how smart and thoughtful, aren’t even all that great with the written word. Yet I wanted for them that same experience of being seen, and known, and appreciated.

I am not as good at that as I would like to be. I do not click “like” on Facebook unless I am really feeling some serious excitement. I am suspicious of exclamation points. In person, I sometimes do not say hello to an acquaintance because I assume they don’t care about hearing it from me. I am surprised how often I think I’ve said something out loud, but it turns out it lived only in my mind. There are many reasons for this: good, bad, unknowable, idiotic.

Nevertheless since my LTYM experience I am resolved to pay it forward, to push past my scruples or decorum or shyness and give out more totally gratuitous recognition of both close friends and acquaintances. Gratuitous, as in it costs me very little to call out “Hi Jen” instead of smiling and looking down, or to comment “thanks for sharing” when someone posts interesting news. Gratuitous, as in no one need do anything especially amazing to earn it. Who they are is enough.

This is the gift I received, thanks to the effort and support of many people, including LTYM founder Ann Imig, and our Twin Cities co-producers Galit Breen, Tracy Morrison, and Vikki Reich. It is a gift I can try to pass on with very little effort at all.

TL;DR:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

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Twenty (Three) Years Ago: Lollapalooza, Pre-Geek Chic, and Love

[The following is an encore presentation. This blog post was previously published elsewhere, but Throwback Thursday photos of a certain leather jacket made me pull it out again.]

Do you remember August 1991?

Twenty years ago I was going to the very first Lollapalooza concert in Chicago. I was working at the Minnesota Daily, and the two other night editors and I decided to go together.

Vocabulary digression: the night editors were the last of the editorial team to see the paper before one of us drove it—drove it!—over to the printer in the middle of the night. A large part of our job was to maintain the integrity of the actual text of the paper once it had gone “Prod Side” (out of the editorial office and into the production office, housed in a completely separate building) and was in the hands of the art directors, advertising people, and other folks who were more concerned with visual appeal than the accuracy of the 4th largest newspaper in Minnesota.

Everyone working on the paper was probably 25 or younger, which explains why it didn’t occur to anyone that if all the night editors left town for the weekend (when the paper didn’t run) and for some reason couldn’t come back by Sunday night, the paper would be in a bit of a pickle.

Luckily, although all of us were brilliant editors and students, none of us were especially wise, and off we three drove in my tiny bright blue Honda Civic hatchback, which had been dubbed The Indigo Chariot by my roommate.

My memories of the trip are hazy, but I have to laugh at the things I remember:

—Chicago Pizza

—Ice-T as a young rapper instead of old actor

—Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction: For most of their set there were 2 girls with no pants dancing lethargically next to Mr. Farrell, as if grinding with a rock star would be the most boring thing they would do all day. I think they did some things that were supposed to suggest they were Maybe Bisexual (ooooh! Edgy!). I remember looking at Perry Farrell and thinking that he looked just like a super-nerdy former high school loser (trust me, I know) who now had the fame and fortune to force models to gyrate next to him in public. It was kind of sad. I’m curious whether they’ve maintained that part of their act 20 years later.

—Living Colour, which I was really into at the time for some reason

—The cute nerdy editor who drove my car a lot of the way. He was a little younger than me, highly geeky, and scrawny in that way that made me feel—at 5’9”, with the hottest, perkiest body I would ever have—more like an older sister than a potential love interest. Still, had I not moved away, who knows? “Geek Chic” was not yet something any sane marketer had considered, but I was totally charmed by this pale, glasses-wearing boy who confessed at the age of 20 that he still liked dinosaurs. (Bitchy young me: “Really? I liked dinosaurs too. When I was FIVE.”) Last I saw he was a city editor for the Onion, so you can see my instincts on the whole “So Nerdy He’s Hot” thing were right on.

—Henry Rollins scolding the crowd for not clapping enough for the Butthole Surfers, who totally sucked.

—The repeated failure of my car to start.

See, you knew where this was headed. In the morning, as we left our hotel bright and early so we responsible young editors could be back in Minneapolis with hours to spare, my car would not start. My beautiful First Car Ever, for many years the only car used among my groups of friends, was dying.

Photographic proof

Photographic proof


We got it to a service station, and their brilliant advice was to drive drive drive drive without stopping, because once I stopped it would not start again without a jump from a kind stranger. So we did just that. We headed out of Chicago and into the prairie until it seemed we would absolutely have to stop for gas. We stopped for gas, made panicked calls to whatever Daily staffers we could find (cell phones? this was 1991, people, there were no cell phones for college students), got a jump, and rolled into Minneapolis just in time for the three of us to do our jobs for the Monday morning paper.

Because we were the very last editorial staff to see the paper, that issue has more than a few inside jokes tucked away referring to our predicament, including a little line art representing my poor hatchback, which needed a fair amount of work before I could drive it off to graduate school a couple weeks later.

Somewhere after midnight we all walked to one of the editor’s apartments and tried to crash there, but we were so wired we stayed up talking all night. I think the other female editor and I flirted aimlessly with Cute Editor Boy, all of us knowing full well that we were the kind of people who went to alt rock concerts and danced like fools, then went home alone to read classic novels and recover from too much smoke and crowd noise and write about it all later.

Sometime before sunrise we walked Editor Boy to his apartment, then went for pancakes. I probably only saw the two of them a handful of times before leaving Minneapolis; there was no point in further developing relationships that were about to end.

The Indigo Chariot was fixed and I drove it, along with my mother, and my step-father and grandfather following in a station wagon, to Ann Arbor. I cried as we drove away: I loved the city of Minneapolis, I loved the music and the theater and the lakes, and I was just starting to figure out, at the age of 21, that there were boys out there who actually kind of liked tall nerd girls. On the way to Michigan, I stopped at the last exit of the Upper Peninsula to call my housemates in my new digs. I lay on my back on the floor of my hotel room and laughed with surprise when a boy answered the phone and identified himself as Eggmaster.

I hadn’t told anyone when I would arrive, so I told Eggmaster that getting him on the phone was the biggest relief of my life, still laughing from exhaustion and now from nerves. “I’m so glad I could be part of the biggest release of your life,” he said, and I don’t know whether he misheard me or decided to mess with me.

I met him a the next day: horn-rimmed glasses, a thin white t-shirt, black motorcycle jacket, black combat boots, long and heavy black bangs covering one of his eyes. I soon saw that his bookcase was full of Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald; I learned that he was a drummer and he loved Rush. Geek Chic indeed, except he was in no way scrawny, and he was —hurray!—a full four inches taller than me. I did not learn his position on dinosaurs. Despite our breathless, giggly phone conversation, we hardly spoke to each other for three weeks, so intense was our shyness and introversion.

Nevertheless, Reader, I married him.

When I read online that today Lollapalooza was marking its 20th anniversary, the incredible sweetness of August 1991, which seems so long ago, came rushing back. Though I am right now listening to my twelve-year-old daughter practice her Bach inventions, I remember another bright young woman who was just waking up to the surprising possibilities life has to offer, amazed that she, too, might have a chance at love, joy, and just a little reckless abandon.

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